March 30, 2010

Pakistan’s cricket star set to marry India’s tennis queen


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The announcement of retirement from international cricket by former captain and a batting great, Mohammad Yousuf, was not the ‘only’ headline news to be broadcast by the Pakistani television channels on March 29.

I don’t think Yousuf even had left the premises of the Karachi Press Club (KPC), where he had formally announced his retirement during Meet the Press programme, when the news about the wedding of Shoaib Malik and Sania Mirza broke out.

So there were two former Pakistan cricket captains, not one, having hit the headlines on the same day. Yousuf and Shoaib may not be enjoying the most cordial of relations of late but I am sure they would have followed each other’s developments during the day with considerable interest.

While there was not much element of surprise in Yousuf’s decision of calling it a day, for it had become all too obvious by the time he announced his retirement formally, but the ‘news’ of Shoaib planning to tie the knot with Sania came as a surprise.

As the television channels started ‘hunting’ for the ‘credible’ sources to verify the ‘breaking news’ the sports communities in both the countries across the border became more engrossed in this unexpected and unlikely event.

The news was finally confirmed to the media by Sania’s father Imran Mirza later in the evening. A formal wedding reception has been scheduled within a month but there were no plans for an engagement function.

“The couple will be based in Dubai, where Shoaib is a resident, and Sania will continue to play tennis once she recovers fully from the wrist injury that has marred her career in the recent past,” Imran was quoted as saying.

“My wedding is, Insha Allah, going to be the biggest day of my life. I have been under constant glare of the public for too long and would appreciate more privacy at this very personal moment in my life,” Sania said.

“I hope to be fully fit to represent India in the Commonwealth and Asian Games that are scheduled for later this year,” she added.

Sania plans to continue playing tennis for India while Shoaib will obviously be representing Pakistan and this indeed could be a unique case where the husband and wife will represent their respective countries in sport.

Shoaib is understood to be fully supportive of Sania’s tennis career. “I fully understand what it takes to be an international sportsperson and I will support Sania in her career as long as she wishes to play,” he was reported to have said.

“Representing India, at the 2012 Olympics is very important for her and I will be the proudest husband if she can win a medal for her country,” the former Pakistan captain added.

Shoaib had formerly been engaged to another Indian, Ayesha Siddiqui, who claims to be married to the charismatic Pakistani all-rounder. According to reports Ayesha’s father has tried to threaten Shoaib to give Ayesha divorce before proceeding any further.

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Yousuf calls it a day in KPC’s Meet the Press show


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It was around 4.30 pm on March 29 when Mohammad Yousuf, one of the greatest-ever batsmen to be produced by the country, announced his decision to retire from all forms of international cricket.

The Sports Committee of the Karachi Press Club (KPC) had invited the world record-holder for the highest number of Test runs as well as centuries in a calendar year at the Meet the Press Programme upon learning that he was going to make an ‘important’ decision of his career.

Thanks to the media it had become an ‘open secret’ and it was no more going to be a ‘breaking news’ by the time the programme was held that Yousuf would be announcing his retirement. A large number of KPC members, particular those covering cricket, had reached the venue much before the designated time.

The popularity of Yousuf and the significance of the event of the members had also attracted quite a few cricket scribes who are not privileged to be the members of the KPC yet for different reasons.

Yousuf himself arrived at the KPC about 20 minutes before the start of the programme and he had to spend sometime with his media friends in the Ibrahim Jalees Hall before being escorted to the terrace.

The seats were full and everyone was waiting for the moment eagerly when the master batsman was going to make the ‘declaration’ in public. With the members of the electronic media requiring time to get their microphones in order we had to start the programme a few minutes past four.

Being the Secretary of the KPC Sports Committee as well as the host of the programme I did have the option of delivering a long opening speech to pay tribute to the accomplished middle-order batsman and also reflect on the controversies related to him.

But I chose to be precise as I normally prefer to do on all occasions because I know how restless one feels if the speaker goes anywhere close to ‘dragging’ or loses the focus even a bit.

The KPC Secretary, A H Khanzada, talked in detail about the recent failures of the Pakistan cricket team having made the whole country sad and depressed.

The KPC President, Imtiaz Faran, explained the national flavour of the club. He urged Yousuf to change his retirement plans in the larger national interest.
The clock had ticked half pas four when Yousuf, after a brief presentation ceremony, finally came to speak. The cameras became more attentive. The photojournalists started clicking his every move.

The stage was set for Yousuf to explode and play a breezy knock. But he preferred dead batting. He just read out a carefully drafted speech in which he thanked all his former captains and colleagues for the support they had extended to him over the years. Then he announced retirement from international cricket.

Yousuf was reluctant to take the questions from the media but he stood there for a while as it’s a tradition to have an interactive session with the KPC members in Meet the Press programme.

A number of critical questions were hurled at him but he evaded them. He was not prepared to speak his mind. He looked indecisive and unprepared as well for the volley of questions. He, however, registered his appreciation for the KPC.

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March 29, 2010

Yousuf persuaded to reconsider retirement before announcing it


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Pakistan cricket has its own peculiar ways. Shahid Afridi, who has been handed over the captaincy of the upcoming ICC World Twenty20 to be staged in the Caribbean, is now suggesting Mohammad Yousuf to reconsider his decision to retire from the international arena.

It’s really very strange but not totally unbelievable because Yousuf, only a couple of weeks ago, was believed to have gone to the residence of Shahid to muster his support in his quest to retain captaincy.

It was very clear even then that the flamboyant all-rounder had no sympathy with the beleaguered skipper although he may not have been communicated it in simple words. But Yousuf must have felt the negative signals and Shahid’s non-cooperation could have been one of the key factors in his decision to quit the game altogether.

The meeting between the two, however, appeared to have taken place before the decision of Ijaz Butt to appoint Shahid as the skipper for the ICC World Twenty20 rather reluctantly.

If the decision to hand over the reigns to Shahid been all that straight forward he would have been named the captain at the time of the announcement of the squad for the tournament. It’s very rare that the team was finalized prior to the selection of the captain. But that’s how life goes on here in this part of the world and nothing could be taken for granted.

Obviously nobody is bothered about the fact that how vital it would have been to take the captain on board while finalizing the line-up for the global event. Now the skipper will have a team at his disposal that didn’t have a seal of his approval. Can’t it affect the performance of the unit? But who cares for thing as petty as performance. To them it’s just a matter beside the point.

Now Shahid considers the decision of Yousuf to quit the scene as an emotional one. Interestingly the request to hold back retirement plans has come before the formal announcement that’s due to made in the Karachi Press Club’s Meet the Press programme on March 29.

"I think Yousuf is taking an emotional decision, but I think he must reconsider his decision because he still has a lot to give to Pakistan cricket. Yousuf I think has been affected by the recent happenings and is upset with the ban on him, but he is a senior player and he must handle the situation. He must not take an emotional decision,” Shahid was quoted as saying.

"We have a lot of Test matches coming up in next 10 to 12 months and we need his experience against the top teams like Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand," he added.

Not sure what Shahid really meant because if he was really so concerned about Pakistan cricket he should have conveyed this message to Yousuf when the champion batsman had called on him in not too distant past.

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March 28, 2010

Yousuf chooses to announce retirement decision at KPC


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Cricket is most widely played and followed sport in Pakistan and the prolific cricketers enjoy iconic status hence all their movements are monitored and watched with great interest.

It was only the other day when I had come to know from the most reliable of sources that Yousuf was desirous of announcing one of the most important decisions of his career at the Karachi Press Club (KPC), an institution he is believed to be holding in high esteem.

What I was not told beforehand was about the contents of the disclosure. To be honest it didn’t matter to me what exactly were his plans. Whether you like him or not, Yousuf remains one of the biggest names in Pakistan cricket, a position he cannot be denied.

I considered it as an opportunity and, after completing the formal process in the quickest possible time, extended the invitation to the celebrated cricketer who returned the compliments by accepting it very promptly.

Within a matter of minutes of our decision to invite Yousuf in the KPC Meet the Press programme on March 29, the news broke out that the former Pakistan captain was all set to announce his retirement from all forms of international cricket and he was going to make the decision public at our club.

"I have decided to quit cricket. This is not an emotional decision. I consulted my family, friends and elders before taking it," Yousuf was quoted as saying.

Well it’s not going to be first time, though, when Yousuf would be bidding farewell to Pakistan cricket, having already done it two times in the past. Initially he did so after being upset over his treatment from the selectors as well as the management and then he was provoked after being overlooked for Pakistan's World Twenty20 squad in 2007.

By the look of things, he had signed up with the Indian Cricket League (ICL) in protest but the controversies kept chasing him and he remained in the news for the wrong reasons on a number of occasions.

With the Pakistan batting flopping more often than not in the limited opportunities coming their way in the international arena there was added pressure on Ijaz Butt to expedite Yousuf’s return into the side.

That Ijaz Butt held a soft corner for Yousuf in particular or he was doing it as an exercise of damage control there was a feeling of a personal favour involved the manner in which the accomplished middle-order batsman was drafted in the team after distancing from the ICL finally.

Ijaz Butt also obliged Yousuf by elevating him to the post of captain for the important tours of New Zealand and Australia earlier this season and there was not much element of surprise in the final results.

Yousuf saw the other side of Ijaz Butt when he was among seven players penalised for various reasons after the disastrous tour. Yousuf was banned indefinitely, a decision that was equally debatable as the one of having made him the captain.

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March 27, 2010

More than satisfying debut at Karachi Press Club


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The ‘Meet the Press’ programme at the Karachi Press Club on March 18 was my first as Secretary of the Sports Committee. Not surprisingly there was not enough time at our end to make the necessary arrangements because the outstation hockey Olympians were in town for a brief period and we had very few options.

With the hockey controversy brewing up and all the national newspapers flashing stories under banner headlines day in and day out we had the opportunity of inviting the legendary characters to speak on the burning topic.

Let me give the credit to the KPC Secretary, A H Khanzada, for not having taken even a minute in granting the approval in principle when I discussed with him the idea of holding a programme on hockey. The KPC President, Imtiaz Faran, was also on board right away and so were the rest of the committee members.

Both the top office-bearers of the KPC were there with me to receive the distinguished guests upon their arrival. The members of our Sports Committee were also enthusiastic in welcoming the battalion of Olympians.

We do seldom come across the luminaries of different eras sitting together on the stage. It was a rare occasion when the legends of Pakistan’s national sport had assembled in one terrace. I have intentionally not used the proverbial under one roof because we entertained our worthy guests in the spacious lawn covered by tents.

A normal ‘Meet the Press’ programme is usually held in the centrally air-conditioned Ibrahim Jalees Hall of the KPC. We had to make the tricky decision whether to hold it there or shift it to the terrace where we could accommodate larger number of persons. Because of the sweltering heat having gripped the city of Karachi we had to think twice before finally going for the second option.

We were proved correct because the heat of the subject was going to overshadow the dry weather and it did. Even the old fashioned fans were more than enough to do the business. Nobody cared for the furniture or the settings. The occasion was a momentous one and everybody was absorbed in it, seeing off the blazing sun with a smile.

It was more of a privilege to have also conducted the proceedings of the ceremony that was not only a historic one only for me personally but it was an honour for our beloved institution to have hosted these hockey greats.

These were the moments of lifetime. Sharing the stage with the likes of Akhtar-ul-Islam, Islahuddin Siddiqui, Samiullah Khan, Shahnaz Shaikh, Rasheed-ul-Hasan, Ayaz Mahmood, Shahbaz Ahmed, Qamar Ibrahim and Saeed Khan was something to cherish for the rest of life.

It was one of those rare occasions when the number of chairs fell short on the stage. Quite a few Olympians like Qamar Zia, Moinuddin Khan, Naeem Akhtar, Mohammad Irfan and Kamran Ashraf had to be seated among the audience but they were recognized and acknowledged.

The ceremony, as anticipated, was widely reported by the electronic and print media whose representatives were in attendance in good number to cover the event. It may have been ‘another story’ for many but to me it was something special.

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March 22, 2010

Sindh Government to help in building snooker academy


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA) has been advised to by the provincial government to search and identify an amenity where they could build their proposed snooker academy.

Sindh Sports Minister, Dr Syed Mohammed Ali Shah, has disclosed having asked the office-bearers of the PBSA to carry out a survey of localities where they are desirous of building their academy.

“The PBSA officials had approached me with a request to arrange for them an amenity plot as they have offered to build the complex themselves for the purpose of centralizing their activities. I have promised them a plot of land for this purpose hopefully in the area of their choice,” Dr Shah revealed.

“The PBSA functionaries have taken the responsibility of visiting the areas where they are interested in building the academy. Once they are done with the process of selecting a vacant amenity plot then they will be required to submit a petition for its possession. Since our government has a sports friendly policy I am confident that their request will be entertained,” he hoped.

The Sindh Minister, who was the chief guest in the prize distribution of the NJI 35th National Snooker Championship 2010 at the Karachi Gymkhana recently, reckoned that the development of a snooker academy will go a long way in boosting cue sports.

“Snooker has tremendous potential. It can be helpful in bringing the much needed medals for Pakistan in the Asian Games. Steps must be taken to promote the game from the grassroots level as the youngsters are very keen to play it,” Dr Shah added.

Dr Shah, who is also the President of the Sindh Olympic Association (SOA), urged the local organizers and administrators to take the necessary corrective measures when questioned about the declining standards in snooker in Karachi where as the cueists from Punjab were improving in leaps and bounds of late.

It has been an ambition of the PBSA to have an academy of their own. Their office-bearers have made a mention of it on a number of occasions in the past well.

But it’s really a matter of surprise that they were unable to do it even when the cueists had earned glories for the country and they had a willing sponsor in Lakson Tobacco Company whose brand of Red & White had become synonymous with snooker for a long time.

One gets the impression now that the PBSA functionaries were not too serious in pursuing the proposed academy project as it demanded continuous hard work besides consistent policies.

There was a time when snooker had become the most popular sport of the country, after cricket of course. But the odd movers and shakers in the PBSA were not all that keen in legwork or making extra efforts for implementing long-term plans.

The present leadership in the PBSA has the eagerness to move around but their priorities have come under fire more often than not. Will they succeed in doing the work on their side to make the most of the offer made by Dr Shah remains to be seen.

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March 21, 2010

Star attractions make IPL truly special


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

One of the unique features of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is the involvement of the mega stars with it. There are not only the cricket stars but also the stars of the celluloid world watched in action during this high-profile event whose third edition has rocked the cricket fans once again.

The Bollywood giants have as much massive following globally, if not more, as the cricket greats. The combination of the two was always going to produce something sensational and the monumental success of the IPL has come as no surprise.

Whoever conceived it, the idea was a rollicking one. It had to catch the imagination of the people. We have witnessed already that the event has become a blockbuster and its graph is going to go only one way.

With so many hugely resourceful individuals and organizations joining hands to make it a phenomenal success there was very remote chance of it not taking off. The organizers have had to endure hardships as well but their strong-willed approach has enabled them to overcome nearly every obstacle.

Wasn’t it a miracle that they were able to shift the event to South Africa at a very short notice the last time round when the situation in India was not deemed proper to hold its matches there?

Well the IPL is back in India and its third edition, as expected, has started making waves right away. The grounds are packed to capacity in nearly every game and the atmosphere has been nothing short of electric.

The high-voltage games have kept the millions of cricket fans glued to their television sets for hours. The IPL produces unmatchable entertainment and people are simply crazy about it.

The cricket stars from every part of the world are associated with the IPL. It’s a pity, however, that the cricketers from Pakistan have been unable to make it there after having made quite an impact in its inaugural edition.

The presence of the Bollywood stars in the IPL has made it much more glamorous than any other sporting event. With the likes of Shah Rukh Khan, Priety Zinta, Shilpa Shetty and Juhi Chawla having stakes in the competing franchises they are quite frequently seen at the ground supporting their respective outfits.

With Katrina Kaif also getting associated with one of the franchises and Priyanka Chopra making an appearance, the event has become even more sought after one. The IPL 3 has probably surpassed the popularity of its previous two editions.

The crowds have had plenty to cheer about during the IPL. In fact there hardly is any dull moment as far as this particular tournament goes. A few of the one-sided matches might have disappointed some purists but I am sure there are plenty of other features at the ground to keep the paying public totally absorbed irrespective of the state of the game.

The Indian cricket fans are into IPL 3 by all means and as one of my friends observed the other day, would the people there still need the ICC World Cup next year!

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March 19, 2010

Hockey greats blast Asif Bajwa


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

As expected it was Asif Bajwa, Secretary, Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), coming under the hammer when the hockey greats addressed the members of the Karachi Press Club on March 18. He was asked to accept the responsibility for the debacle and quit the scene.

The galaxy of hockey Olympians arrived at the club dot on time even though quite a few protest meetings were being held nearby and the roads were blocked. Akhtar-ul-Islam and Islahuddin Siddiqui led the squad that also featured the illustrious figures of Samiullah Khan, Shahnaz Shaikh, Rashid-ul-Hasan, Shahbaz Ahmed, Ayaz Mahmood and Saeed Khan.

The top officials of the Karachi Press Club, Imtiaz Faran (President) and A H Khanzada (Secretary) alongwith the members of the club’s sports committee received the distinguished guests at the main entrance and they were escorted to the terrace where the Meet the Press programme began at the designated time of 4 pm.

Quite a few other prominent hockey players of the past including Mansoor Ahmed, Moinuddin Khan, Qamar Zia, Qamar Ibrahim, Kamran Ashraf and Mohammad Irfan sat in the audience alongwith local club players and fans of the game.

All the speakers lamented Pakistan’s disgraceful performance in the recently concluded World Cup hockey tournament in New Delhi where the team finished at the bottom.

They unanimously attacked the PHF officials for the expected disaster. They attributed the debacle to the defensive approach of the team management as Pakistan could score only nine goals in the six matches they played during the tournament.

Shahnaz Shaikh presented a comprehensive report in which he blamed the PHF for having ignored the advice aimed at improving the performance of the team.

“I had warned the team management so many times to refrain from playing defensive hockey. It’s suicidal approach if you ask your boys to play defensively. It demoralizes the players and their mindset becomes negative,” Shahnaz asserted.

“Our players had to pay the price of getting engaged into defensive tactics. Our strength became our weakness when the boys were put into negative frame of mind. Our boys were drained out and they hardly could attack the rivals with the punch that was no desperately needed. You can’t win a game with out scoring. If you yourself cut down your scoring chances than how can you expect to win,” he argued.

“The management on the bench was mostly shouting in rage rather than design a timely substitution for the aging players. Subsequently most of the goals were conceded in the dying moments of the matches. Most of the goals against Pakistan were scored on counter attacks by the opponents showing a physical fitness problem. It required strength, endurance and circuit training was not planned during training camp,” he said.

Islahuddin, who spoke behalf of the Olympians, in the extended interactive session, dispelled the impression that the hockey greats were demonstrating the unity to seek any position in the PHF.

“All these luminaries of the Pakistan hockey have secured jobs with their respective organizations where they are employed and neither of us is running for any job in the PHF,” he clarified.

To a question, he said that the Olympians were ready to meet the government officials and discuss the issue with them as they were keen for the revival of hockey in the country.

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March 18, 2010

Legends unite for mutual objective of damage control


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It’s not often that the Pakistan hockey greats have thought or functioned on a common goal after having quit the game that earned them name, fame, wealth, recognition and respect beyond imagination.

Lately, however, they appear to have become united in their stand for ousting the all-powerful Secretary of the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), Asif Bajwa, following the debacle in New Delhi where Pakistan finished last among the dozen participants.

It’s heartening to see the likes of Olympians Islahuddin Siddiqui, Samiullah Khan, Shahnaz Shaikh and Shahbaz Ahmed, all of them enjoying the status of a hockey legend, talking collectively for the cause of the national game.

Quite a few other Olympians and internationals are also on board expressing their disgust and displeasure out in the open. They have blasted Asif Bajwa for ruining the game with wrongdoings of every kind.

It’s going to be quite an occasion at the Karachi Press Club on March 18 where these luminaries have been invited by the Sports Committee in their prestigious Meet the Press programme. Special arrangements have been made as bigger media participation than usual is anticipated in view of the issue they will be talking on.

Well the Pakistan hockey has had its share of ups and downs over the years. Pakistan had made immediate impact in the international arena after independence. They had made it to the semifinals in their maiden appearance in Olympic Games at London in 1948. They also did it in the 1952 Olympic Games at Helsinki.

Things changed for the better in the 1956 Olympic Games at Melbourne when Pakistan made it to the final for the first time. After winning the gold medal in the 1958 Asian Games, Pakistan conquered the hockey world by winning the Olympic crown at Rome in 1960.

Gold medal in the 1962 Asian Games was followed by silvers in the 1964 Olympic Games and the 1966 Asian Games. It was back to gold in the 1968 Olympic Games and the 1970 Asian Games. Pakistan completed the Grand Slam by winning the inaugural World Cup in 1971.

The golden era continued in the 1970s with medals in every outing. The start to the 1980s was equally heartening and the gold medals in the 1982 Asian Games, the 1982 World Cup and the 1984 Olympics.

Then there was a sudden dip and Pakistan stunned everyone by dropping to 11th position in the 1986 World Cup. They fared comparatively better in the 1988 Olympic Games but it was for the first time that they had not reached the semifinals in 40 years.

Pakistan won the World Cup in 1994 against the heaviest of odds and not surprisingly it has remained their last major success at the international level. There has been very little to cheer about for the last 16 years.

Now the Pakistan hockey has suffered the biggest blow at New Delhi, having finished at the bottom after losing games against teams like South Africa and Canada who themselves had a forgettable tournament otherwise.

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March 17, 2010

Warne describes Yusuf’s whirlwind knock the best ever


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

The third edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) came alight with a magnificent 37-ball century from Yusuf Pathan of Rajasthan Royals against the star-studded Mumbai Indians, featuring two of the most lethal fast bowlers of the world, at the Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai, on March 13.

It went to the credit of Mumbai Indians, captained by Sachin Tendulkar, to have still managed to win the game despite the crack Yusuf had at their bowlers.

Yusuf’s superb knock was acknowledged by his skipper Shane Warne who described it as the best innings he's seen in his 21-year career.

"I have played cricket for 21 years and I have seen Sachin Tendulkar as the best batsman against whom I have played as he has murdered attacks and hit them all over the park. But today was the best innings I have ever seen," Warne, the greatest spin bowler of all-time, observed.

"From a situation of 37 for 3 in seven overs and chasing 213 and come so close thanks to a 37 ball-100. It's a special innings. We believe we can win from anywhere. We just have to sort out our batting in the first six overs. In the last two IPLs we have won more games than anyone and we have won more close finishes," the legendary Warne remarked.

Another genius, Tendulkar, who himself recently rewrote history by scoring the first-ever double century in One-day Internationals, also hailed Yusuf's knock as very special and said he was aware of his ability to spark such a turnaround.

"It was a special innings from him, but even the effort from Sathish to get him run out was special. Before he came in and played that knock, I thought we would win this match with ease, but that's the beauty of this great game. You can never take anything for granted. I knew Yusuf was in great form and if he connects the ball well, the target was achievable," the master complimented.

Yusuf was still disappointed for not having secured a win for his side but he was gladdened by the comeback staged from a precarious position.

"I made an error because of which we lost, else we would have won. We're sad right now but we are also very happy that we played good cricket apart from the extras we conceded. When such flat wickets get made, records get broken and runs get scored. We will learn a lot from this loss and there is not a lot to worry as this is a long tourney," he said.

Yusuf, with his lusty hitting, was chiefly responsible for bringing his team back into the game after they had looked dead and buried while chasing a formidable total of 213 in 20 overs. When they needed something around 150 from the final 10 overs the odds heavily favoured the fielding side.

By having blasted nine fours and eight sixes he turned the tide and his team held the upper hand when the target was down to 19 off 12 balls. But his run out in the closing stages proved decisive and Mumbai won the dramatic encounter by four runs.

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March 16, 2010

Third time lucky for Australia


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Australia finally managed to down Germany in a World Cup final. Having failed to do it on the past couple of occasions it was the turn of the Aussies to come out smiling after yet another enthralling final.

It was the third successive World Cup final between the two powerful hockey nations. Germany had succeeded in crossing the last hurdle in the last two finals but Australia emerged triumphant in the final of the Hero Honda FIH World Cup 2010 at Delhi’s Major Dhayan Chand Stadium.

Australia’s Ric Charlesworth earned the distinction of winning the World Cup both as a player and as a coach. He was a member of the Australia that captured the crown for the first time. Now he was the coach of the team when it has done it for the second time, after a gap of 24 years.

Germany came very close to completing a hat-trick of title wins. After having snatched the trophy in 2002 and 2006 they were at a striking distance of retaining it but the Australians dashed their hopes in the final.

As expected the final turned out to be very exciting and not surprisingly only one goal separated the two evenly matches outfits. Australia won the game 2-1 after having led 1-0 at halftime.

It was in the fitness of things that the two best teams of the tournament had made it to the final. Germany were the only undefeated team in the competition going into the final while Australia had staged a magnificent comeback after losing their opening game against England.

Australia’s worst match in the tournament was probably the one against Pakistan which they won and not the one against England which they lost. It was amazing to find the Australians struggling against a Pakistan side that was itself short of confidence.

The Aussies did secure a 2-1 win over Pakistan but it wasn’t the kind of performance that would have made them proud. May be it was the psychological pressure of playing against Pakistan that prevented them from playing to their potential in a game they were expected to dominate all the way.

The match for the bronze medal, featuring the Netherlands and England, was a high scoring affair. The Netherlands were the winners by an odd goal in seven. England had to pay the price for wasting far too many opportunities, particularly penalty-corners.

England had become the first team to qualify for the semifinals, having made there with four successive wins but they crashed in both the knockout games to be denied of a medal.

None of the Asian teams could make it to the semifinals with Australia, Germany, the Netherlands and England sharing the top four positions. The fifth slot was also claimed by a European nation, Spain.

South Korea with sixth position proved to be the best Asian outfit with Argentina pushing hosts India down top eighth place. New Zealand, South Africa and Canada shared the next three positions with Pakistan finishing as the disappointing last among the 12 participants.

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March 15, 2010

Ijaz Butt on lookout for a new captain


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Ijaz Butt has now started having parleys with the prospective captains. The only positive aspect in this whole exercise is the fact that the chairman of the so-called Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has openly declared having met the candidates he had in mind as the future leader of the team.

He has also come out in the open that being the chairman of the PCB he held the prerogative of choosing the captain and he was going to make the decision himself. Will he care to explain did he ever consult anyone before taking the decisions that were not meant to be taken by him all alone?

Well sky is the limit for Ijaz Butt as far as bringing the Pakistan cricket to repute is concerned. He is not afraid to commit blunders after blunders, oblivious of the fact that he was dealing with the affairs of a national body not his own proprietary concern.

Ijaz Butt has used the vehicle of a selection committee to have the squad announced that would represent Pakistan in the ICC Twenty20 Championship due to start in the Caribbean in about six months time.

There was hardly any sense in having the squad finalized well before the deadline. Neither was there any logic in delaying the appointment of the captain for such an important assignment.

Wouldn’t have it looked proper to have the captain on board while selecting the team. Obviously the majority of the players are automatic choices and the fringe cases are the ones deliberated. The input of the skipper who will have the responsibility of leading the team in the field would have been so crucial.

Ijaz Butt is not tired of experimentation yet. By delaying the appointment of the captain he has passed the impression that he desires taking time before arriving at the decision that indeed holds the key to the immediate future of Pakistan cricket.

Shoaib Malik was the captain and former Australian fast bowler Geoff Lawson was the coach when Ijaz Butt had taken over as the chairman of the PCB in the autumn of 2008. Since both these appointments were made by his predecessor, Dr Nasim Ashraf, there was not much element of surprise when he terminated the contract of Lawson rather controversially first up.

Shoaib, as expected, was the first choice as captain when Sri Lanka, not India, came to tour Pakistan in early 2009. With mismanagement at the top beginning to resurface it was a matter of time for the indiscipline to rattle the team. There was so much chaos after defeats in just a couple of One-day Internationals that Ijaz Butt had to move it to install Younis Khan as the captain for the Test series.

The temperamental Younis wasn’t extended the desired support by Ijaz Butt when he needed it most and he obliged Mohammad Yousuf with captaincy for the tour of New Zealand and Australia with Shahid Afridi getting the nod for Twenty20 Internationals. Yousuf was sacked before tour was over.

Younis, Yousuf and Shoaib are out of the equation now with Ijaz Butt having banned them for offences yet to be made public. Shahid has also been fined. But he is still in the run for the honour. Misbah-ul-Haq and Abdul Razzaq are other front runners to lead the side. Ijaz Butt can also nominate Salman Butt for the job.

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Ijaz Butt creates unprecedented mess by banning, fining cricketers


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Ijaz Butt has been getting away with it all the time. He takes pride in declaring it more and more emphatically through his actions that he’s above board. While the others are accountable and punishable there seems no force on earth at the moment that could even contain the might of the chairman of an organization called the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

Controversies have remained part and parcel of the Pakistan cricket all along but never before the law has been taken in the hands in this manner by the person who is supposed to be the torch-bearer.

There used to be odd incidents even in the days of Abdul Hafeez Kardar and Air Marshal Nur Khan but very rarely one found them getting into the act unnecessarily. They were the people for whom the national interest was paramount.

Unfortunately the national interest has been compromised by the people with the vested interests in the recent past but Ijaz Butt has exceeded all limits and only God knows how much greater damage he will cause before someone realizes his follies and fixes him.

May be, during his tenure, he would like to push Pakistan to the bottom among the Test playing nations in the manner not too dissimilar to the national hockey team that crashed in the recently concluded World Cup in India.

Ijaz Butt’s action of banning and fining cricketers has come as a shocker. More than anything else he appears to have settled scores with the players whom he considered a threat to his authority.

It’s not the issue that some of the celebrated cricketers have been banned or fined. Indeed nobody is above the law and anyone engaged in indiscipline needs to be tried and heard. The law has to take its course and the offenders have to be punished if found guilty.

Doesn’t the same apply to the team management, who were meant to control these guys? Doesn’t Ijaz Butt or his committee that recommended the severe punishment be also tried for having made a mess at the top?

The initial announcement implied that former captains Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf were banned for life. It was clarified later that the period was ‘indefinite’ and that it was not a life ban.

Shoaib Malik, another former captain, and all-rounder Naved-ul-Hasan have been banned for a year. Fines have been imposed on Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal and Umar Akmal.
Ijaz Butt is not prepared to reveal why these cricketers have been penalized so heavily. They are national assets, not the personal servants of the PCB Chairman whom he could take for a ride whenever he pleases.

If the cricketers have committed sins that were indeed ‘unpardonable’ then they must be made public. Ijaz Butt doesn’t have the right to play around with the emotions of the masses who simply love the game.

The Pakistan cricket is in the middle of another crisis and this seems most serious of them all. It’s another horrible example of bad management by a dictator.

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March 12, 2010

Cosmetic changes unlikely to revive Pakistan hockey


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Pakistan have fared worse than the worst. Their poorest record in the World Cup was having finished 11th among the dozen participants in 1986. Now they have hit the rock bottom after losing to Canada on March 11 in New Delhi that condemned to the last slot in the competition.

Yes the four times champions have ended at the last position now. The country having clinched the title in 1971, 1978, 1982 and 1994 has found itself pushed down to the 12th place. They couldn’t have performed more miserably because there were only 12 teams competing.

Pakistan’s hockey team was never expected to dominate in the 2010 World Cup despite the tall claims made by the likes of Qasim Zia, Asif Bajwa and Shahid Ali Khan. But nobody expected them to finish last either.

The pressure was more on Asif Bajwa to accept the responsibility for the catastrophe and quit the job. He was being blamed for wrongdoings and the critics demanded an enquiry to be conducted against him and he must be penalized if found guilty.

By the look of things Qasim Zia, President, Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF), is now playing another kind of politics. Instead of removing Asif Bajwa from the position of Secretary PHF he is actually protecting and shielding him. His decision to sack the team management and the selection committee but to retain the Secretary didn’t reflect honesty of purpose.

In fact Qasim Zia made his intentions quite clear by claiming that the present PHF set-up was looking forward to the Asian Games to be held later this year. Does the PHF chief wants to ensure that the Pakistan team also finishes last in the Asian Games?

“This is a big debacle for Pakistan hockey as they lost to India after 35 years in World Cup and suffered first defeat against South Africa in 63 years. It couldn’t have been worse as they also crashed in their game against Canada,” the soft spoken Islahuddin, one of the most respected hockey figures of the country, observed.

Quite a few other former Olympians including Shahnaz Shaikh, Ayaz Mahmood, Mansoor Ahmed, Muhammad Saqlain and Naveed Alam have also held Asif Bajwa chiefly responsible for the worst-ever performance by a Pakistan team.

“If the team management took the credit for fine performances in the Asia Cup, the World Cup qualifiers and the Champions Trophy qualifiers they should take the whole blame for the World Cup flop and face the music,” Islahuddin remarked.

The formers Olympians, for reasons beyond comprehension, have refrained from lashing at PHF chief Qazim Zia and complimented him instead for bringing in huge sums of money for the national game.

“Asif Bajwa worked under me during my tenure as chief coach of Pakistan junior hockey team. He had a defensive approach and we developed differences on the same because I believed in attacking hockey philosophy,” Ayaz Mahmood, a gold-medalist of the 1984 Olympics, noted.

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March 10, 2010

Immediate sacking of Asif Bajwa demanded


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Pakistan’s not entirely unexpected downslide in the ongoing 11th World Cup Hockey Tournament 2010 in New Delhi has prompted the concerned quarters to demand the immediate sacking of the key officials of the national body.

Asif Bajwa, who was running the show with the blessings of Qasim Zia, has been declared the ‘chief’ culprit of the debacle and his head is being demanded to be put on the chopping block right away.

Asif Bajwa has not only been ‘ruling’ the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) as its Secretary but he has also remained a part and parcel of the team management on literally every tour undertaken by the national team. He has been the virtual manager-cum-coach of the squad in nearly every outing including the World Cup in which Pakistan finished last in the group.

It’s an open secret that Qasim Zia, a former Olympian-turned-politician, has preferred to remain the ceremonial head of the PHF. Being an influential leader of the ruling party, he has been successful in bringing huge sums of money for the game.

Qasim Zia should be credited for having brought in the much needed sponsorship for the national game but now he should also shoulder the blame for having allowed Asif Bajwa to run the affairs of the PHF according to his own whims.

Greater pressure is being exerted on Asif Bajwa to resign whereas Qasim Zia is not found in the firing line yet. But there are clear enough indications that the PHF President will be needed to get rid of his controversial Secretary in order to save his own skin from accountability.

Asif Bajwa has not given up yet despite being at the centre of the criticism for having taken the Pakistan hockey to its lowest ebb. He is still believed to be proactive in his game of manipulation to avoid getting the stick and extend his tenure by hook or by crook.

It will, however, come as little surprise if Asif Bajwa is asked to resign. Obviously he will be the last person to do it voluntarily.

Meanwhile Pakistan are now preparing to take on Canada in the eleventh position match. If my memory serves me right the Canadians had overpowered Pakistan in their classification match during the 1986 World Cup in London.

Pakistan, unfortunately, have fared even worse in the 2010 World Cup in New Delhi because they suffered defeats in four of their five league match with the upset win over Spain being their only consolation in the high profile event.

Under the circumstances one cannot predict the outcome of the Pakistan-Canada match scheduled to be held on March 11. The Canadians have lost all their league fixtures but mind you their best performance in the tournament came in their last game that was against Argentina.

If Canada reproduce the kind of hockey they did against their South American rivals Pakistan, having claimed the trophy a record four times, could well finish at the rock bottom for the first time in the 39-year old history of the competition.

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March 9, 2010

Sajjad regains national crown in style


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

There was no stopping Mohammad Sajjad from recapturing the national crown. Easily the most talented of all the young cueists to have arrived on the scene in the recent past he was in complete control while routing Asjad Iqbal in the all-Sargodha final of the NJI 35th National Snooker Championship 2010 at the Karachi Gymkhana on March 8.

Top seeded Sajjad, a former champion, lived up to the billing by whacking the unseeded Asjad, making his maiden appearance in the final of the National Championship, 8-2 with the frame scores of 72-55, 100-6, 79-41, 122-8, 80-57, 67-43, 62-58, 8-72, 7-70, 85-7.

The presentation ceremony was held soon after the final in which Tahir Ahmed, Managing Director, New Jubilee Insurance (NJI), was the chief guest. Quite a few office-bearers of the Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA), including their President, Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, were also present on the occasion.

Tahir Ahmed, having become a familiar personality in the snooker circles, presented the glittering trophy alongwith a purse of Rs50,000 to Muhammad Sajjad while Asjad Iqbal collected the runner-up trophy with a reward of Rs30,000. Sajjad also got special cash awards for registering the tournament’s solitary century break in the final.

The 26-year-old Sajjad, who had created a sensation by winning the National Championship on his debut a couple of years ago, was in complete control in the final against Asjad, five years his junior.

Unlike the last year’s final in which Sajjad was overshadowed by Mohammad Asif, he went about his business in leisurely fashion against his young opponent who he had also coached for a while in their hometown.

Sajjad’s dominance could be gauged from the fact that he registered one big break after another. He recorded breaks of 47 and 53 in the second frame before hammering one of 43 in the third.

He chalked up the first century break (117) of the competition in the fourth frame. His thirst for breaks didn’t end there as he blasted ones of 76 and 41 in sixth and seventh frames respectively to seal the fate of the match.

The young Asjad, having represented the country in last year’s Asian and World Under-21 Snooker Championships could not reproduce the form that had taken to the final against the heaviest of odds.

The only consolation for Asjad was preventing a whitewash that had earlier seemed imminent when he was trailing 0-7 in the best of 15 frame encounter. He snatched two frames in a row to make it 2-7 but Sajjad didn’t allow any more liberties to him.

The NJI 35th National Snooker Championship 2010 lasted about a week. A total of 34 cueists took part in the event who were divided in eight groups for the first round of league matches. The knockout stage began with the round of 16.

Quite a few promising youngsters grabbed the opportunity of demonstrating their growing stature with Asjad turning out to be the standout package.

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March 4, 2010

Mohsin Khan’s appointment as chief selector another body blow to ailing Pakistan cricket


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Ijaz Butt continues to be on a rampage. Chiefly if not solely responsible for pushing the Pakistan cricket to the wall of late he has dealt yet another body blow by appointing Mohsin Hasan Khan as the chairman of the national selection committee.

Mohsin Khan was a dashing opening batsman of his time, having played a few memorable knocks with the double-century in the Lord’s Test of 1982 being the standout performance, but he’s not considered an appropriate choice for the position of chief selector.

Ijaz Butt, who took over as the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) in 2008, has been guilty of committing blunders after blunders and his insistence to call the shots without taking the trouble of consulting people who matter has caused irreparable damage to the game in the country.

Ijaz Butt has already done enough disservice to the cause of the Pakistan and he’s not prepared to listen to anyone because of the support he enjoys of his brother-in-law Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar, one of the most influential of politicians in the country at the moment.

He has been fearlessly taking the decisions arbitrarily showing total disrespect to the members of the Governing Board of the PCB. Neither has he been bothered by the declining performance of the team.

The appointment of Mohsin Khan as the chief selector once again brought to light the fact that Ijaz Butt doesn’t care for anyone or anything and he is not afraid to make the moves that are more likely to backfire than not.

Ijaz Butt appeared to have made up his mind after his differences with Abdul Qadir last year that he will be having a Karachi-based chief selector. The names of Saleem Yousuf, Mohsin Khan and Iqbal Qasim were believed to have been considered when the slot became vacant with the exit of the magician leg-spinner.

Iqbal Qasim was preferred and the assignment was given to him. The great left-arm spinner of his era that he was, he also held the advantage of being the chief of the sports department of a leading bank that provided him the opportunity of interacting with the cricketers active on the scene.

The marriage of convenience between Ijaz Butt and Iqbal Qasim, not surprisingly didn’t last long, and the post became vacant once more in a matter of months.
Ijaz Butt has now chosen Mohsin Khan as the replacement of Iqbal Qasim as he desired, by the look of things, to let the position of chairman selection committee be retained by someone from Karachi.

Mohsin Khan will be facing multiple problems in discharging his duties as he’s had the reputation of working out his own timetable. He had worked for the PCB in the past as well but, unlike his enterprising Test career, didn’t do anything to be proud of.

Let us see how Mohsin Khan, who also tried his luck as an actor in the Bollywood, brings his diplomatic skills into play because the chances of him enduring the Ijaz Butt factor appear very remote indeed.

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March 3, 2010

Another pioneering effort from Bashir Khan


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

As Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, a former Prime Minister of Pakistan, has noted in the introduction of the recently published book, Play Better Golf, its author Bashir Ahmed Khan, more famous in the golfing circles as BAK, has been a pioneer in many fields.

Play Better Golf, not surprisingly, happens to be the first book of international standard to be authored and produced in Pakistan and it’s another feather in the cap of BAK, who had an outstanding career in quite a few other fields besides golf.

The 140-page book has been written with a cause. It’s domestic price of Rs 3,000 as well as the international price of US$ 40 per copy appears on the higher side but since the entire proceeds of the sale of the book will go for the education of the deserving children on merit one has the opportunity of making a valuable contribution to the society.

In the promotional literature it has been explained that the sale of every copy of the book will be facilitating in sending one deserving student to school for at least a period of one year.

I am confident that by now a large number of copies of the book would already have been sold out because of two reasons in particular. The book itself is quite a worthy effort, a collector’s delight to be precise. Then the noble cause for which it has been brought out should also encourage many to purchase multiple copies of the book.

Certainly every golfer in particular should own a copy for reference purposes. Such a high quality book on the sport of golf had never been published in Pakistan in the past. It should help in the promotion of golf in the country.

The contents in Play Better Golf are authentic, informative and interesting. It’s a complete package for the golf lovers. It should also be of considerable interest to the non-golfers as well because it has the quotes from the some of the greatest-ever personalities like Sir Winston Churchill.
The versatility and greatness of BAK is reflected in this book as well in which he has showcased some of the most memorable moments of his illustrious career. One standout occasion was the meeting he had the honour of presiding at the White House on October 1, 2003, in the presence of the US President, George W Bush, and the Pakistan Prime Minister, Mir Zafaraullah Khan Jamali.

The accomplishments of BAK are a source of inspiration for all of us. I have had the privilege of working alongside him for over a couple of decades now and it has always been enlightening being with him.
Professionally we had the opportunity of covering numerous international cricket matches. He remained an integral part of the Radio commentary team for a number of years, being the first one to describe the action live in Urdu, the national language of the country.

We have been a part and parcel of the executive committee of the Delhi Anglo-Arabic College & Schools Association for quite sometime now. He was elected to the post of the President of the Association four years ago and he has been leading by example all along.

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March 2, 2010

Shouldn’t BCCI be tried for treason?


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Isn’t it a shame that a depleted outfit was fielded to take on the mighty South Africans in the third and final One-day International at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad on February 27.

The Indians had definitely entered the game with the series already clinched with the triumphs in Jaipur and Gwalior. But did it mean it was compulsory on part of the hosts to gift at least one match to the visitors.

Haven’t the Indians been whitewashed by the various opponents in the past whenever they were found wanting? Wasn’t it their turn to return the compliment to South Africa who had blanked them in the ODI series at home just a few seasons ago?

What was the purpose of resting the seasoned campaigners at a time when they had the South Africans on the mat and another win would have enabled them to finish off the international season at home in style.

Instead of going for the kill, the Indian selectors withdrew their top performers and blooded the inexperienced youngsters in their place for reasons beyond comprehension. Obviously the selectors could not have done this kind of adventure without the consent of the top officials of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan, three of their most consistent players over the past many years, were unavailable due to injuries. What was the point in resting Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag at this point of time when Gambhir and Yuvraj were unavailable?

Was Saeed Anwar rested for the following game after he had amassed the highest ODI score of 194? For that matter was Brian Lara offered a break after scoring 400? When somebody is in the form of his lifetime he likes to go on and on. Only the BCCI people could know the wisdom behind depriving Tendulkar the chance of playing another majestic knock.

Talking about deprivation, was it fair on part of the BCCI to have withdrawn Tendulkar and Sehwag just a couple of days before the game where as the tickets for the Ahmedabad game must have been sold out well in advance?

Didn’t the people of Ahmedabad deserve to have the sight of the great Indian openers having taken the world by storm?

Even worse to the extent of suicidal was the withdrawal of the experienced bowlers. What was the sense to have a three-man pace attack lacking in confidence, abilities and experience when they had the likes of Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra, RP Singh, Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel to name a few to choose from.

Shantikumaran Sreesanth, who had struggled in the earlier two matches, was made the spearhead of the attack and those having showed greater control under pressure, Nehra and Kumar, were sidelined and replaced by two raw youngsters, Sudeep Tyagi and Abhi Mithun.

Needless to say the Indians conceded a record score to South Africa and then got bowled out for a low score in conditions when gripping the ball in wet conditions was quite an issue.

Do the officials of the BCCI have the right to field any outfit of their choice under the banner of ‘Team India’ or do they also have to follow any code of ethics? Isn’t it a crime to play around with the emotions of the people by not letting the best lot do it for their country?

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March 1, 2010

India outplay Pakistan in battle of former champions


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It was amazing to find the Indians dominate their arch-rivals, Pakistan, so decisively and more importantly translating their supremacy into a resounding 4-1 victory. It’s not often when they have succeeded in recording such an emphatic win over their fiercest opponents.

India’s Spanish coach, Jose Brasa, very rightly downplayed the win because after all it was an opening match not the final of the tournament. But they certainly warmed the hearts of their supporters during their opening World Cup 2010 match at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium in New Delhi on February 28.

"It's just a normal win and three points for us we must keep our feet on the ground. We dominated the first half, but we were not up to mark in second half and still managed to score two lucky goals," he summed up the situation perfectly.

India do need a cool head to carry the form they displayed in the opening game into the remaining matches because of being placed in the group of death. Whether they will be able to sustain the momentum against Australia, Spain, England and South Africa remains to be seen.

The Indians have seldom performed consistently in the hockey field for decades now and I don’t think there’s much to celebrate with an odd win over Pakistan. They have to come up with much improved performance in the upcoming matches to bring about any kind of revival.

Well begun is believed to be half done. So India can draw inspiration from the big win over Pakistan in the first game and they can make it count. Realistically they are not in the run for a place in the semifinals but a couple of more victories can bring them in contention.

Sandeep Singh was their hero in the opening game scoring from two penalty corners. Shivendra Singh had given India the lead in the 25th minute after capitalizing on a penalty corner rebound and Sandeep made it 2-0 just before halftime.

Soon after resumption Prabhjot Singh made the most of a pass from Arjun Halappa and then Sandeep Singh scored with a drag-flick to make it 4-0 in the 56th minute. The Indians kept on attacking and they were not deterred even after Pakistan’s penalty-corner specialist Sohail Abbas had narrowed the deficit.

Talking of Sohail it was rare to find cursing himself out in the open when he found the crossbar two times. He, however, turned out to be the solitary scorer for Pakistan on a day when they could not launch their trademark offensives.

Pakistan’s coach Shahid Ali Khan conceded that India were the better team on the day. "After falling behind by three goals, it was always going to be difficult to bounce back but this isn't the end of the tournament," he remarked.

Well theoretically Pakistan do stand a chance of forcing their way in the semifinals but the ground realities might be far too harsh to their liking. They have to tackle the powerful trio of Australia, Spain and England besides South Africa.

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